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Oliver Sacks is a physician and writer whose exploration of the link between mind and body became part of the American popular culture with the release of Awakenings. Since then, this master storyteller has released other titles like The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, An Anthropologist on Mars, and The Island of the Colorblind. One of his most recent books, Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood, will be released in paperback in September.

One of the most obvious aspects of your life is your medical and scientific family.

Well, it was a very big family because my mother was the 16th of 18. Most of the uncles and aunts and the cousins lived in London. So there's a very strong tribal feeling, and a strong scientific feeling because seven of the nine uncles have been in the physical sciences. Two of them were very close to me.

There was a botanical aunt, whom I adored. And another uncle was crazy for number theory. And my parents were medical. It was a family where curiosity and questioning were welcomed. All children ask why, why, why. But I was sometimes given answers, and I wasn't very discouraged.

Once my mom showed me how either tin or zinc emit a strange noise and I was puzzled by this. She said it's due to deformation of the crystal structure, forgetting I was 5.

One of the interesting themes of this book, given that it's a book of your early years, is the story of faith and your family's faith commitment. They were Orthodox Jews?

Yes, they were. They were pretty Orthodox. They kept a kosher house. They went to the synagogue. And all the rituals were there. And my mother would light the candles on Friday when the Sabbath came in. I am not sure what they believed.

They didn't talk about it?

No, I don't think they ...

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June 2002

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